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H. T. J. N.



"eminent VICTORIANS"

Before 1912, when Lytton Strachey had
published his first book, the art of biogra-
phy had declined to a journeyman's task
of compiling fat volumes commemorating
the dead. To the task of putting an end
to this form of literary abomination, Lytton
Strachey brought many special qualifica-
tions. Of these, the most notable were his
acute sense of the past, a scholarship both
profound and spirited, and a crystalline
style. Educated at Trinity College, Cam-
bridge, Lytton Strachey later received an
honorary LL.D. from the University of
Edinburgh. His death, in 1Q32, cut short
a literary career of twenty years, during
which time, his books, though few, set a
new standard in biography and exercised
a far-reaching influence. In his own opin-
ion, Eminent Victorians is his masterpiece.


POPE (1925)



The history of the Victorian Age will never be written:
we know too much about it. For ignorance is the first
requisite of the historian — ignorance, which simplifies
and clarifies, which selects and omits, with a placid per-
fection unattainable by the highest art. Concerning the
Age which has just passed, our fathers and our grand-
fathers have poured forth and accumulated so vast a
quantity of information that the industry of a Ranke
would be submerged by it, and the perspicacity of a Gib-
bon would quail before it. It is not by the direct method of
a scrupulous narration" that the explorer of the past can
hope to depict that singular epoch. If he is wise, he will
adopt a subtler strategy. He will attack his subject In un-
expected places; he will fall upon the flank, or the rear; he
will shoot a sudden, revealing searchlight into obscure
recesses, hitherto undivined. He v/ill row out over that
great ocean of material, and lower down into it, here and
there, a little bucket, which will bring up to the light of
day some characteristic specimen, from those far depths,
to be examined with a careful curiosity. Guided by these
considerations, I have written the ensuing studies. I have
attempted, through the medium of biography, to present
some Victorian visions to the modern eye. They are, in one
sense, haphazard visions — that is to say, my choice of
subjects has been determined by no desire to construct a
system or to prove a theory, but by simple motives of con-
venience and of art. It has been my purpose to illustrate


rather than to explain. It would have been futile to hope
to tell even a precis of the truth about the Victorian age,
for the shortest precis must fill innumerable volumes. But,
in the lives of an ecclesiastic, an educational authority,
a woman of action, and a man of adventure, I have sought
to examine and elucidate certain fragments of the truth
which took my fancy and lay to my hand.

I hope, however, that the following pages may prove
to be of interest from the strictly biographical no less
than from the historical point of view. Human beings are
too important to be treated as mere symptoms of the past.
They have a value which is independent of any temporal
processes — which is eternal, and must be felt for its own
sake. The art of biography seems to have fallen on evil
times in England. We have had, it is true, a few master-
pieces, but we have never had, like the French, a great
biographical tradition; we have had no Fontenelles and
Condorcets, with their incomparable eloges, compressing
into a few shining pages the manifold existences of men.
With us, the most delicate and humane of all the branches
of the art of writing has been relegated to the journeymen
of letters; we do not reflect that it is perhaps as difficult to
write a good life as to live one. Those two fat volumes,
with which it is our custom to commenjorate the dead —
who does not know them, with their ill-digested masses of
material, their slipshod style, their tone of tedious pane-
gyric, their lamentable lack of selection, of detachment,
of design? They are as familiar as the cortege of the under-
taker, and wear the same air of slow, funereal barbarism.
One is tempted to suppose, of some of them, that they
were composed by that functionary, as the final item of
his job. The studies in this book are indebted, in more ways
than one, to such works — works which certainly deserve


the name of Standard Biographies. For they have provided
me not only with much indispensable information, but
with something even more precious — an example. How
many lessons are to be learnt from them! But it is hardly
necessary to particularise. To preserve, for instance, a be-
coming brevity — a brevity which excludes everything
that is redundant and nothing that is significant — that,
surely, is the first duty of the biographer. The second, no
less surely, is to maintain his own freedom of spirit. It is
not his business to be complimentary; it is his business to
lay bare the facts of the case, as he understands them. That
is what I have aimed at in this book — to lay bare the facts
of some cases, as I understand them, dispassionately, im-
partially, and without ulterior intentions. To quote the
words of a Master — "/f n'impose rien; ]e ne propose rien:

L. S.

A list of the principal sources from which I have dr^wn
is appended to each Biography. I would indicate, as an hon-
ourable exception to the currettt commodity, Sir Edward
Cook's excellent "Life of Florence Nightingale," without
which my own study, though composed on a very different
scale and from a decidedly different angle, could not have
been written.



Cardinal Manning ,

Florence Nightingale iji

Dr. Arnold 201

The End OF General Gordon 239



Henry Edward Manning was born in 1807 and died in
1892. His life was extraordinary in many ways, but its
interest for the modern inquirer depends mainly upon two
considerations — the light which his career throws upon
the spirit of his age, and the psychological problems sug-
gested by his inner history. He belonged to that class of
eminent ecclesiastics — and it is by no means a small class
— who have been distinguished less for saintliness and
learning than for practical ability. Had he lived in the
Middle Ages he would certainly have been neither a
Francis nor an Aquinas, but he might have been an Inno-
cent. As it was, born in the England of the Nineteenth
Century, growing up in the very seed-time of modern
progress, coming to maturity with the first onrush of
Liberalism, and living long enough to witness the vic-
tories of Science and Democracy, he yet, by a strange
concatenation of circumstances, seemed almost to revive
in his own person that long line of diplomatic and admin-
istrative clerics which, one would have thought, had come
to an end with Cardinal Wolsey. In Manning, so it ap-
peared, the Middle Ages lived again. The tall gaunt figure,
with the face of smiling asceticism, the robes, and the
biretta, as it passed in triumph from High Mass at the
Oratory to philanthropic gatherings at Exeter Hall, from
Strike Committees at the Docks to Mayfair drawing-
rooms where fashionable ladies knelt to the Prince of the
Church, certainly bore witness to a singular condition of



affairs. What had happened? Had a dominating character
imposed itself upon a hostile environment? Or was the
Nineteenth Century, after all, not so hostile? Was there
something in it, scientific and progressive as it was, which
went out to welcome the representative of ancient tradi-
tion and uncompromising faith? Had it perhaps, a place
in its heart for such as Manning — a soft place, one might
almost say? Or, on the other hand, was it he who had
been supple and yielding? he who had won by art what
he would never have won by force, and who had managed,
so to speak, to be one of the leaders of the procession less
through merit than through a superior faculty for gliding
adroitly to the front rank? And, in any case, by what
odd chances, what shifts and struggles, what combinations
of circumstance and character had this old man come to
be where he was? Such questions are easier to ask than
to answer; but it may be instructive, and even amusing,
to look a little more closely into the complexities of so
curious a story.

Undoubtedly, what is most obviously striking in the
history of Manning's career is the persistent strength of
his innate characteristics. Through all the changes of his
fortunes the powerful spirit of the man worked on undis-
mayed. It was as if the Fates had laid a wager that they
would daunt him, and in the end they lost their bet.

His father was a rich West India merchant, a governor
of the Bank of England, a Member of Parliament, who
drove into town every day from his country seat in a
coach and four, and was content with nothing short of a
bishop for the christening of his children. Little Henry,
like the rest, had his bishop; but he was obliged to wait for
him — for as long as eighteen months. In those days, and
even a generation later, as Keble bears witness, there was
great laxity in regard to the early baptism of children. The
delay has been noted by Manning's biographer as the first
stumbling-block in the spiritual life of the future Car-
dinal: but he surmounted it with success.

His father was more careful in other ways.

His refinement and delicacy of mind were such [wrote Manning
long afterwards] that I never heard out of his mouth a word
which might not have been spoken in the presence of the most
pure and sensitive, — except [he adds] on one occasion. He was
then forced by others to repeat a negro story which, though
free from all evil de sexu, was indelicate. He did it with great
resistance. His example gave me a hatred of all such talk.



The family lived in an atmosphere of Evangelical piety.
One day the little boy came in from the farm-yard, and
his mother asked him whether he had seen the peacock.
"I said yes, and the nurse said no, and my mother made
me kneel down and beg God to forgive me for not speak-
ing the truth." At the age of four the child was told by
a cousin of the age of six that "God had a book in which
He wrote down everything we did wrong. This so terri-
fied me for days that I remember being found by my
mother sitting under a kind of writing-table in great fear.
I never forgot this at any time in my life," the Cardinal
tells us, "and it has been a great grace to me." When he
was nine years old he "devoured the Apocalypse; and I
never all through my life forgot the 'lake that burneth
with fire and brimstone.' That verse has kept with me like
an audible voice through all my life, and through worlds
of danger in my youth."

At Harrow the worlds of danger were already around
him; but yet he listened to the audible voice. "At school
and college I never failed to say my prayers, so far as
memory serves me, even for a day." And he underwent
another religious experience: he read Paley's Evidences.
"I took in the whole argument," wrote Manning, when
he was over seventy, "and I thank God that nothing has
ever shaken it." Yet on the whole he led the unspiritual
life of an ordinary school-boy. We have glimpses of him
as a handsome lad, playing cricket, or strutting about in
tasselled Hessian top-boots. And on one occasion at least
he gave proof of a certain dexterity of conduct which de-
served to be remembered. He went out of bounds, and a
master, riding by and seeing him on the other side of a
field, tied his horse to a gate, and ran after him. The astute
youth outran the master, fetched a circle, reached the gate,.


jumped on to the horse's back, and rode off. For this he
was very properly chastised; but of what use was chastise-
ment? No whipping, however severe, could have eradi-
cated from little Henry's mind a quality at least as firmly
planted in it as his fear of Hell and his belief in the argu-
ments of Paley.

It had been his father's wish that Manning should go
into the Church ; but the thought disgusted him ; and when
he reached Oxford, his tastes, his ambitions, his successes
at the Union, all seemed to mark him out for a political
career. He was a year junior to Samuel Wilberforce, and
a year senior to Gladstone. In those days the Union was
the recruiting-ground for young politicians; Ministers
came down from London to listen to the debates; and a
few years later the Duke of Newcastle gave Gladstone
a pocket borough on the strength of his speech at the
Union against the Reform Bill. To those three young men,
indeed, the whole world lay open. "Were they not rich,
well-connected, and endowed with an infinite capacity for
making speeches? The event justified the highest expecta-
tions of their friends; for the least distinguished of the
three died a bishop. The only danger lay in another

Watch, my dear Samuel [wrote the elder "Wilberforce to his
son] watch with jealousy whether you find yourself unduly
solicitous about acquitting yourself; whether you are too
much chagrined when you fail, or are puffed up by your suc-
cess. Undue solicitude about popular estimation is a weakness
against which all real Christians must guard with the most
jealous watchfulness. The more you can retain the impression of
your being surrounded by a cloud of witnesses of the invisible
world, to use the Scripture phrase, the more you will be armed
against this besetting sin.


But suddenly it seemed as if such a warning could, after
all, have very little relevance to Manning; for, on his leav-
ing Oxford, the brimming cup was dashed from his lips.
He was already beginning to dream of himself in the
House of Commons, the solitary advocate of some great
cause whose triumph was to be eventually brought about
by his extraordinary efforts, when his father was declared
a bankrupt, and all his hopes of a political career came to
an end for ever.

It was at this time that Manning became intimate with
a pious lady, the sister of one of his College friends, whom
he used to describe as his Spiritual Mother. He made her
his conjfidante; and one day, as they walked together in
the shrubbery, he revealed the bitterness of the disappoint-
ment into which his father's failure had plunged him. She
tried to cheer him, and then she added that there were
higher aims open to him which he had not considered.
"What do you mean?" he asked. "The kingdom of
Heaven," she answered; "heavenly ambitions are not
closed against you." The young man listened, was silent,
and said at last that he did not know but she was right.
She suggested reading the Bible together; and they ac-
cordingly did so during the whole of that vacation, every
morning after breakfast. Yet, in spite of these devotional
exercises, and in spite of a voluminous correspondence on
religious subjects with his Spiritual Mother, Manning still
continued to indulge in secular hopes. He entered the
Colonial Office as a supernumerary clerk, and it was only
when the offer of a Merton Fellowship seemed to depend
upon his taking orders that his heavenly ambitions began
to assume a definite shape. Just then he fell in love with
Miss Deffell, whose father would have nothing to say
to a young man without prospects, and forbade him the


house. It was only too true; what were the prospects of
a supernumerary clerk in the Colonial Office? Manning
went to Oxford and took orders. He was elected to the
Merton Fellowship, and obtained through the influence of
the Wilberforces a curacy in Sussex. At the last moment
he almost drew back. "I think the whole step has been too
precipitate," he wrote to his brother-in-law. "I have rather
allowed the instance of my friends, and the allurements
of an agreeable curacy in many respects, to get the better
of my sober judgment." His vast ambitions, his dream of
public service, of honours, and of power, was all this to
end in a little country curacy "agreeable in many re-
spects"? But there was nothing for it; the deed was done;
and the Fates had apparently succeeded very effectively
in getting rid of Manning. All he could do was to make the
best of a bad business. Accordingly, in the first place, he
decided that he had received a call from God "ad veritatem
et ad seipsum"; and, in the second, forgetting Miss Def-
fell, he married his rector's daughter. Within a few months
the rector died, and Manning stepped into his shoes: and
at least it could be said that the shoes were not uncomfort-
able. For the next seven years he fulfilled the functions of
a country clergyman. He was energetic and devout; he
was polite and handsome; his fame grew in the diocese.
At last he began to be spoken of as the probable successor
to the old Archdeacon of Chichester. When Mrs. Man-
ning prematurely died, he was at first inconsolable, but
he found relief in the distraction of redoubled work. How
could he have guessed that one day he would come to num-
ber that loss among "God's special mercies"? Yet so it
was to be. In after years, the memory of his wife seemed
to be blotted from his mind; he never spoke of her; every
letter, every record, of his married life he destroyed; and


when word was sent to him that her grave was f aUing into
ruin: "It is best so," the Cardinal answered; "let it be.
Time effaces all things." But, when the grave was yet
fresh, the young Rector would sit beside it, day after day,
writing his sermons.


In the meantime a series of events was taking place in
another part of England, which wi;s to have a no less pro-
found effect upon Manning's history than the merciful
removal of his wife. In the same year in which he took
up his Sussex curacy, the Tracts for the Times had begun
to appear at Oxford. The "Oxford Movement," in fact,
had started on its course. The phrase is still familiar; but
its meaning has become somewhat obscured both by the
lapse of time and the intrinsic ambiguity of the subjects
connected with it. Let us borrow for a moment the wings
erf Historic Imagination, and, hovering lightly over the
Oxford of the thirties, take a rapid bird's-eye view.

For many generations the Church of England had slept
the sleep of the . . . comfortable. The sullen murmurings
of dissent, the loud battle-cry of Revolution, had hardly
disturbed her slumbers. Portly divines subscribed with a
sigh or a smile to the Thirty-nine Articles, sank quietly
into easy livings, rode gaily to hounds of a morning as
gentlemen should, and, as gentlemen should, carried their
two bottles of an evening. To be in the Church was in
fact simply to pursue one of those professions which Na-
ture and Society had decided were proper to gentlemen
and gentlemen alone. The fervours of piety, the zeal of
Apostolic charity, the enthusiasm of self-renunciation —
these things were all very well in their way — and in their
place; but their place was certainly not the Church of
England. Gentlemen were neither fervid nor zealous, and


above all they were not enthusiastic. There were, It was
true, occasionally to be found within the Church some
straitlaced parsons of the high Tory school who looked
back with regret to the days of Laud or talked of the
Apostolical Succession; and there were groups of square-
toed Evangelicals who were earnest over the Atonement,
confessed to a personal love of Jesus Christ, and seemed
to have arranged the whole of their lives, down to the
minutest details of act and speech, with reference to
Eternity. But such extremes were the rare exceptions. The
great bulk of the clergy walked calmly along the smooth
road of ordinary duty. They kept an eye on the poor of
the parish, and they conducted the Sunday Services In a
becoming manner; for the rest, they differed neither out-
wardly nor inwardly from the great bulk of the laity, to
whom the Church was a useful organisation for the main-
tenance of Religion, as by law established.

The awakening came at last, however, and it was a rude
one. The liberal principles of the French Revolution,
checked at first in the terrors of reaction, began to make
way in England. Rationalists lifted up their heads; Ben-
tham and the Mills propounded Utilitarianism; the Re-
form Bill was passed; and there were rumours abroad of
disestablishment. Even Churchmen seemed to have caught
the Infection. Dr. Whately was so bold as to assert that,
in the interpretation of Scripture, different opinions
might be permitted upon matters of doubt; and Dr.
Arnold drew up a disquieting scheme for allowing Dis-
senters into the Church, though It is true that he did not
go quite so far as to contemplate the admission of Uni-

At this time there was living In a country parish i
young clergyman of the name of John Keble. He had


gone to Oxford at the age of fifteen, where, after a suc-
cessful academic career, he had been made a fellow of
Oriel. He had then returned to his father's parish and
taken up the duties of a curate. He had a thorough knowl-
edge of the contents of the Prayer-book, the ways of a
Common Room, the conjugations of the Greek Irregular
Verbs, and the small jests of a country parsonage; and
the defects of his experience in other directions were
replaced by a zeal and a piety which were soon to prove
themselves equal, and more than equal, to whatever calls
might be made upon them. The superabundance of his
piety overflowed into verse; and the holy simplicity of the
Christian Year carried his name into the remotest lodging-
houses of England. As for his zeal, however, it needed
another outlet. Looking forth upon the doings of his
fellow-men through his rectory windows in Gloucester-
shire, Keble felt his whole soul shaken with loathing,
anger, and dread. Infidelity was stalking through the land ;
authority was laughed at; the hideous doctrines of
democracy were being openly preached. Worse still, if
possible, the Church herself was ignorant and lukewarm;
she had forgotten the mysteries of the sacraments, she had
lost faith in the Apostolical Succession, she was no longer
interested in the Early Fathers, and she submitted herself
to the control of a secular legislature, the members of
which were not even bound to profess belief in the Atone-
ment. In the face of such enormities what could Keble do?
He was ready to do anything, but he was a simple and an
unambitious man, and his wrath would in all probability
have consumed itself unappeased within him had he not
chanced to come into contact, at the critical moment, with
a spirit more excitable and daring than his own.

Hurrell Froude, one of Keble's pupils, was a clever


young man to whom had fallen a rather larger share o£
self-assurance and intolerance than even clever young
men usually possess. What was singular about him, how-
ever, was not so much his temper as his tastes. The sort
of ardour which impels more normal youth to haunt Mu-
sic Halls and fall in love with actresses took the form, in
Froude's case, of a romantic devotion to the Deity and an
intense interest in the state of his own soul. He was ob-
sessed by the ideals of saintliness, and convinced of the
supreme importance of not eating too much. He kept a
diary, in which he recorded his delinquencies, and they
were many. "I cannot say much for myself to-day," he
writes on September 29, 182^ (he was twenty-three years

Online LibraryLytton StracheyEminent Victorians: Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Dr. Arnold, General Gordon → online text (page 1 of 25)